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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out the success of the Government’s phonics programme and the disparity in children’s vocabulary. I will come on to an example of a child in my constituency who benefited and learned new words by being part of a trial in South Gloucestershire that made radio aids possible. I completely agree that it is vital for people to have access to radio aids outside the home.
Living with hearing loss is sometimes an isolating and lonely experience, and radio aids have been shown to have positive effects on children’s psychological and emotional wellbeing and self-confidence. Perhaps the best argument for the use of radio aids I have heard came from my constituent, Hannah, whose daughter has severe hearing loss and has been wearing hearing aids since she was eight weeks old. Hannah’s daughter was offered the chance to use a radio aid for a trial period. Hannah told me how beneficial that had been for her daughter, who started to pick up new vocabulary and became more confident and independent. That radio aid enabled her to have an experience of life that was much more like that of her hearing friends.
Local parents are concerned about the fact that although the provision of radio aids outside the school or nursery setting might be greatly beneficial, it is not a certainty for children in South Gloucestershire. In this review period, there is even more uncertainty about what will come post September next year. I therefore urge all four authorities to use the review to consider providing radio aids to all deaf and hearing-impaired children for use in the home and outside the school or nursery setting as quickly as possible.
I ask the Minister to urge South Gloucestershire Council and the other three authorities to take the review process as an opportunity to evaluate overall provision for local deaf children, and to have in mind the four points I have raised: prioritising early years and pre-school provision and ensuring that it is strengthened as a result of the review; protecting the provision of teaching of the deaf; joining up the teaching of the deaf and speech and language therapy services, which is particularly important and has been raised a number of times; and considering providing radio aids to all deaf and hearing-impaired children outside the home as quickly as possible. The review gives us the opportunity to improve the support we offer to deaf children, and to help children in South Gloucestershire to develop better communication skills, optimise their speech skills, build their confidence in interactions with their families and others, maximise their academic attainment and become more confident and independent. Taking those steps will make that possible.